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Smart Green Tech
Our Newest Climate Change Weapon: Nanofiber?

A team of researchers recently demonstrated a way to create carbon nanofiber—an ingredient in many high-end products—from atmospheric carbon. The BBC reports:

Their solar-powered system runs a small current through a tank filled with a hot, molten salt; the fluid absorbs atmospheric CO2 and tiny carbon fibres slowly form at one of the electrodes…the approach offers a much cheaper way of making carbon nanofibres than existing methods, according to Prof Stuart Licht of George Washington University. […]

…Prof Licht is confident his design can succeed. “It scales up very easily – the entire process is quite low energy…There aren’t any catches; there’s a necessity to work together, to test this on a larger scale, to apply some societal resources to do that,” he told BBC News.

On the one hand, this is a story about a potential breakthrough in materials science. The discovery could potentially be scaled up to source carbon nanofiber much more cheaply than current methods, according to the research team. But there’s also the unavoidable (and perhaps premature) hope that this could be a way to incentivize companies actively to pull carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere, and, in doing so, help mitigate the greenhouse gas effect and climate change.

While it may be too soon to crown this the next great green hope (as is the case with so many “clean” technologies, profitably scaling it to a commercial level is the real test), this breakthrough points to humanity’s unceasing desire and ability to innovate. Malthusian environmentalists will talk at length of the problems that human development is unleashing on the planet without pausing to consider that this same pathway might provide solutions as well. As the pace of technological change accelerates, we’ll be seeing more stories like this one cropping up, and some of them will undoubtedly go on to disrupt current systems in ways we can’t now envision. And since so many of these advances involve doing or producing more with less inputs, Mother Nature should benefit as well.

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  • Andrew Allison

    Assuming, of course, that heating the salt and generating the electricity doesn’t create more CO2 than is sequestered.

    • Boritz

      Trees do it with solar power. Hey, that would make a good bumper sticker.

      • Andrew Allison

        Trees (and other plants/crops) remain the best available method of sequestering CO2. Little known fact: atmospheric CO2 concentrations on the East Coast are lower than on the West thanks to the prevailing westerly winds. In other words, North America is a net consumer of CO2..

  • Proud Skeptic

    What we need to resolve the impasse over carbon “pollution” and AGW is a simple, cheap solution that looks like it is doing something…whether it is or isn’t. Once deployed, carbon warriors can declare victory and the rest of us can be left alone.

    Of course, there is always the argument that this isn’t about carbon at all but about something much larger…in which case, my solution will do nothing and we are pretty much screwed.

  • Blackbeard

    As you suggest, this isn’t really about CAGW or CO2. If the Greens really believed that they would be in favor of nuclear power and in favor of hydropower. Instead they oppose both vehemently.

  • rheddles

    Lithium will also be the key to solving the water problem. Is there anything it can’t do?

  • CaliforniaStark

    Another potential breakthrough technology would be using a graphene filter to take hydrogen out of the air:

    But don’t expect the development of any of these new technologies any time soon. Much of the green movement is based on nostalgia for the past, and its adherents are disproportionately older Anglos who have secure pensions or government-funded income, and who want to create a static society with limited economic growth. New technologies such as nanotubes and graphene interfere with returning to a kumbaya singing world. Another hurdle in the way of developing new technology are green special interests, such as wind, solar and ethanol, who now control the funding spigot — which is operated in a political manner reminiscent of Tammany Hall. New technologies will only come into play when their economic benefits are such that they are developed by private enterprise; as happened with fracking.

    • rheddles

      want to create a static society with limited economic growth

      So true. And limit the access of plebes to their physical environment.

  • Rick Johnson

    Why are you so keen to take CO2 out of th eair? Think of the poor plants. That their food you are trying to nick. Leave them alone and let them get on with living.

    • stan

      Baby plants need fertilizer. Save the baby plants!

  • Jacksonian_Libertarian

    “Global Warming” is the Greatest Hoax and Fraud in Human History, doing anything to alleviate this non-existent problem is the height of Stupidity. That said, a way to make carbon nano tubules in quantity and low cost would be great and of major benefit to mankind.

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